Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Celebrating Our Work, Even in January

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

January can feel very hard on school counselors. We help students get over the post-holiday slump and back into the groove of going to school, we prepare for testing, we embrace a new round of schedule changes, we talk students through the college admissions decisions they received over break, and—let’s be honest—we count the time down to Presidents Day. Little did Lincoln and Washington realize how much freedom they were giving to school counselors, simply by being born the same time of year!

Of course, we don’t always have to wait for days off to feel a sense of satisfaction—in fact, two recent reports suggest we have a great deal to feel good about all the time.  A.S. Belasco recently conducted a data review of high school graduates who went on to postsecondary institutions, and the findings are impressive. Here’s a note from the Results section:

…(S)tudents who visited their counselor for college-related information were more likely to enroll in postsecondary education and at four-year institutions in particular. Results also demonstrated that the influence of school-based college counseling varied based on socioeconomic status, and that low-SES students were likely to yield the most benefit from their relationship with a school counselor.

The findings went on to point out that students from low socio-economic schools (SES) had a greater likelihood of going to a four-year college if they visited their high school counselor in both 10th and 12th grade, and not just 12th grade.

These results are very encouraging for a couple of reasons.  First, the results confirm that counselors do make a difference when helping students develop plans for study after high school.  Counselors have known this for a long time, but this data analysis goes a long way to provide empirical support of this position.

Second, these results offer some evidence to refute the current claim that high school counselors are “undermatching” low-SES students. The study doesn’t analyze counselor effectiveness by type of four-year institution, but the results do suggest students who meet early and regularly with their counselor get the support and “push” they need to look at four-year colleges.  This lays the foundation for more research from the same data to see what role counselor influence plays in students applying to highly selective colleges.

Many of the points raised in this study support the findings of a little-used College Board study from last year.  High schools in Oklahoma were randomly selected to receive an additional school counselor.  At the end of the study, college- going rates were compared between the high schools that received an extra counselor, and a control group of high schools that received no extra counselors. 

The summary of the College Board findings suggested that, on average, the presence of an additional school counselor led to a 10% increase in the number of students attending college.  In addition, the findings indicated that the degree of the increase was impacted by the amount of training the new counselor had received in college advising.

While these results are tentative, the two studies support some long-held counselor beliefs:

  •  Counselors make a difference when it comes to students’ plans for life after high school.
  • This is especially true in low-income high schools, where students start to work early with their counselor.
  • College attainment increases when student/counselor ratios go down.
  • College attainment increases when school counselors receive more training in college counseling.

Now that’s worth celebrating!

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